It’s the last Fifth Doctor story in the Big Finish Doctor Who main range for a while, but this latest April release is a little different from the vibrant stories featuring Nyssa, Tegan and Adric that came before it.
The Helliax Rift, written by Scott Handcock and directed by Jamie Anderson is the first of three new releases this year to feature a brand new UNIT team for Big Finish. Blake Harrison stars as Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins, Russ Bain as Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Price and Genevieve Gaunt as Corporal Linda Maxwell. Making their debut here, all three will return for further adventures with the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in later 2018.
The first of these new UNIT stories is available to download on the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st May 2018. Here’s the synopsis for The Helliax Rift…
Daniel Hopkins thought he knew what he was letting himself in for when he joined the top-secret UNIT organisation as its latest Medical Officer.Racing about the countryside, chasing strange lights in the sky? Check. Defending the realm against extraterrestrial incursion? Check. Frequent ear-bashings from UNIT’s UK CO, the famously no-nonsense Lt-Col Lewis Price? Check. Close encounters of the First, Second and even Third kind? Check, check, check.
But he had no idea what alien beings were really like. Until the day of the Fallen Kestrel. Until the day he met the Doctor.
As usual, I’ll be joined by my son Ben to review this latest main range Doctor Who release…
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
The Helliax Rift is an intriguing little tale, offering audience a new facet to long-standing military organisation UNIT while simultaneously giving the Fifth Doctor his first proper story with them. And yet for the sense of ambition presented here, the story is a rather low-key affair.
Arguably this is not the UNIT fans will be most familiar with; there have always had an antagonistic mix to the Doctor’s relationship with the organisation, but here they are downright hostile – the cliff-hanger to part one even going as far to suggest that Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Price was willing to execute him for desertion. In fact this is a particularly dark tale for Davison’s Doctor, dealing with some strong adult issues around broken families with an extra-terrestrial twists and throwing in vivisection, lies and bloodshed. It is a stark contrast from the more energetic stories Davison has been used to this year.
Personally, I don’t have much desire to see the new UNIT team again, except for quasi-companion Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins (Blake Harrison) who follows in the tradition of the great Harry Sullivan as UNIT’s new medical officer. There is warmth, compassion and subtle innocence about Harrison’s performance and he plays well against the similar but more experienced traits of Davison’s Doctor. He goes on an eye-opening journey in this tale, discovering that not all aliens are evil (which seems to be Lewis Price’s mentality – has he not learned anything from the Third Doctor’s UNIT days?).
There is plenty of darkness and moral ambiguity, not just in the newer, more dangerous UNIT but the clinic itself, where Anna Louise Plowman’s Doctor Jennifer Harrison lures alien life to Earth with a mysterious to Earth and performs tests on them against their will. This is far from a straight battle of good and evil. Harrison claims to want to help aliens, while Lewis Price is willing to shoot them on sight and yet the story would suggest the former is the villain, not the latter.
Where, perhaps, The Helliax Rift really succeeds as a tale, is the story of Deborah Thomas’ Annabel Morden, a woman who has financed Harrison’s clinic in order to save her own half alien son as he struggles to live in Earth’s atmosphere. The appearance of the ‘father’ the Helliax, changes this from an insidious alien trap to a powerful story of parental struggles and the rights of the child, with only the Doctor able to intervene.
The Helliax Rift is a Doctor Who tale steeped in darkness and morality struggles; the new UNIT are not the warmer contemporaries of the Pertwee era, though medical officer Daniel Hopkins emerges as the most relatable and I am intrigued to see where his story goes next as he encounters future Doctors along the way.
Ben Greenland (aged 12)
First off, I want to acknowledge it is a year since I started these reviews! Wow!
The Helliax Rift was a nice tale, but I found a bit dull for me, enjoying the first two parts a lot more. It was interesting to have a Peter Davison in UNIT story, as he never actually had one, a fact overlooked by some fans as he did meet the brigadier on screen. The character of Daniel Hopkins as the Doctor’s one time companion was intriguing, but wasn’t anywhere near as good as the line of The Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan.
I wasn’t particularly fond of the new UNIT team either, and hope they are better in later audios, as they are going to feature with Colin Baker, in July’s Hour of the Cybermen, and Sylvester McCoy later on.
Between parts two and three is an excellent music suite for The Helliax Rift. At over 21 minutes long, it has a lot packed in; the synthesised sounds evocative of the Fifth Doctor era, fused with the military beats synonymous with UNIT.
Disk two has a trailer for upcoming Sixth Doctor story The Lure of the Nomad, featuring a new Big Finish companion Mathew Sharpe (played by George Sear).
Finally, the second disk ends with interviews with the cast and crew discussing the production of the story. Director director Jamie Anderson chats about Big Finish‘s attempt to create a new UNIT for the audio stories, while writer Scott Handcock delves deeper into the creation of the story itself and how his own personal experiences reflected on the tale.
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